Paragliding – The First Week

It was a hot sunny day somewhere between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund in Namibia. I was driving along with my father, probably around the age of 12 to 14, and we spotted two guys with paragliders up on the dunes. My pops, being as adventurous as he is, decided we’d hike up and talk to them. They claimed conditions were poor and very safe so rigged us up immediately – what did we know?! I took off and flew all the way down, making a slight left and right turn as per their instructions and when they shouted flare from the top, I did just that – it was simply out of this world. Another seed had been planted in my mind that day. The same as in December 1999 when my dad took me rafting on the Zambezi River. I saw those kayakers and that’s what I wanted to do, and look what happened. I’ve been kayaking now for ten years, was  sponsored for seven years by a variety of companies and even made choices which negatively affected my working career but gave me back life experiences which are indeed absolutely priceless. Those first moments made indelible impressions on my young mind and the thoughts were nurtured through cutting out pictures in magazines and collecting them and simply staring at them and dreaming and wanting to do it, even though I didn’t have the resources or know how. Eventually those dreams become reality and this week I finally managed to start paragliding!!!


Myself at Hermanus. 3 July 2013. Photo by Barry Pedersen.

I joined Birdmen Paragliding  in Cape Town under the expert guidance of Barry Pedersen. On Thursday 27 June 2013 I went to Dolphin Beach after work and did just over an hour of ground handling. Pulling up the wing using the reverse launch technique with some relative success. On the Saturday I joined them on a trip to Hermanus, where I would potentially fly – I was excited. My anxiety was more due to the fact of meeting so many new people. That definitely freaked me out more than the actual flying! Yes, I am strange.

Conditions were very light which meant going off with a forward launch – wing behind you on the ground and then you run like a mother trucker to generate some pressure/lift in the wing. We did several practice runs, collapsing the wing before going over so that I could get the technique roughly sorted, and while conditions possibly improved. Eventually it was time for me to go. First attempt I could have sworn I heard the words stop, so I did. There was a lot of shouting of run, and this and that and to be honest your brain doesn’t register any of words at that time really. Right, it was time to walk up for round two. Round two was a little more dubious. I ran hard but didn’t apply any brakes (I didn’t know I had to), and the wing overtook me (which I didn’t notice) and as I started flying about a metre off the ground the leading edge collapsed on the right hand side (which I still didn’t notice) and it swung me hard to the right straight into the ground which I definitely noticed as thought oh my f***!!! Crikey, that was less than ideal. I got up slightly scratched but all in all intact and not even my ego bruised. When you’re at the very bottom your ego is not a factor, as you have none.

20130629_110326 Take off at Hermanus on that first Saturday.

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Hermanus 29 June 2013.

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Hermanus 29 June 2013.

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Chris Bond. Hermanus 29 June 2013.

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Hermanus 29 June 2013.

Round three. I knew it would work now, but admittedly was a little more worried given my last attempt! I could feel my heart beating which was usually only reserved for running class 5 rapids or bigger waterfalls. The small crash had rattled me a little but generally I felt ok. The wing came up, I ran, there was the usual shouting but it all sounded positive to my legs kept taking me towards the precipice and as it dropped away I found myself flying, the ground dropping away and a gentle breeze whistling through my face. Suddenly the straps which were so irritatingly tight felt awfully loose up there! The first flight was very cool, and I managed to land nicely too, through the reassuring instruction from Barry and then at landing, from Tom, as I landed at the school fields. In case you are wondering, your first flight is alone. There is no tandem stuff or anything like that. Go big or go home as they say, but honestly it’s really not that bad and the instructors make sure the conditions are ideal for someone learning so you’ve got to just trust them, and the bunch of strings leading up the rather oversized ‘kite’ above you and give it horns. That day I did my first three flights, I was pretty stoked!

On Monday at work I heard from Barry that the weather could work during the week so I asked the boss if I could take leave for the rest of the week and the green light was given. I work for very realistic and relaxed people – awesome! Tuesday 2 July, we headed off to Piketberg. The wind there was too light so we drove off to Piekenierskloof and got to a private take off site just off the N7. Conditions were once again light and the take-off looking dodgy. My first take-off I ran straight through a bush and just had to lift my legs to clear a low fence and more rocks before the cliffs dropped off. I just thought thank f*** I made that one! It was pretty scary actually on the first run. During the course of the day I managed 5 flights in total, with the last two being really awesome. One chap with us managed to stay up for about an hour and forty five minutes! When the conditions were good I could fly up and down the ridge, even flying above it. The feeling really is challenging to describe with using too many cuss words but it really is amazing. It is so different to what one expects. Up in the air there is a complex system of thermals and winds of varying strengths and angles totally invisible but when you’re suspended from your wing you’re at the mercy of these elements and there lies in the skill in identifying the terrain shapes, the wind direction, and visualising what it going to, or could happen. It’s definitely the sort of sport which you can take to varying levels of ‘radicalness’ for lack of a better word but also one which there is always more to learn. I found it very relaxing and enjoyable, as well as very exciting. I can see myself doing this for a long time to come.


Looking up to the hills at Piketberg. 2 July 2013.


View from Piekenierskloof. 2 July 2013.


Take-off at Piekenierskloof. 2 July 2013.


Coming into landing at Piekenierskloof. 2 July 2013.


Piekenierskloof. 2 July 2013.

The next day we headed off to Hermanus where I got two very cool flights! Conditions were good, and then they got too strong. All in all, an amazing day. Buzzing up and down along the ridge was mind blowingly good! When you wind increases and you feel the pressure in your backside and then look at the top of the ridge and you see yourself increasing suddenly in altitude – that is the feeling that is so addictive. I’ve always enjoy hiking up mountains for the good views, but this is sort of cheating as you get great views all along from so many different angles. This is pure joy if you appreciate being outside looking down on the world for a while.


Myself at Hermanus. 3 July 2013. Photo by Barry Pedersen.


Myself at Hermanus. 3 July 2013. Photo by Barry Pedersen.


Myself at Hermanus. 3 July 2013. Photo by Barry Pedersen.


Myself at Hermanus. 3 July 2013. Photo by Barry Pedersen.

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Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Barry Pedersen, Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

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Hermanus. 3 July 2013.

Thursday we drove off to Piketberg. The weather was extremely light at the landing, but too windy at take-off. We bailed and drove back the two hours again. That’s the nature of the sport. As a long time windsurfer I know how it is to wait for conditions to improve. It can be frustrating. To me the solution was kayaking, but then that was not enough and I now have a sport for almost every weather condition and can never be bored, as idleness for long periods of time is a problem for me.

When I have time again I will update again and post a few more photos. So far so good! Loving every second of this new experience – and a big thanks to Barry, Tom and all the people I’ve met that have made it even more memorable.




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